NASCAR Media Conference
October 9, 2007
DENISE MALOOF: Denny, thank you for joining us today. We appreciate your time and good luck this weekend.
We are now happy to be joined by Jason Keller, driver of the No. 1 11 Sweet Baby Ray's Chevrolet in the NASCAR Busch Series. Jason, welcome.
JASON KELLER: Thank you. Appreciate it.
DENISE MALOOF: Jason drives for CJM Racing and is on the verge of breaking a record in the NASCAR Busch Series this weekend. If he qualifies for Friday's Dollar General 300, he will make his 418th career start, which will break the record set by one of the series early standouts, Tommy Houston, who will also be at the track on Friday, and he will be driving a pace car during the warmup laps Friday prior to the event.
Jason you have a lot of excitement heading into this weekend. Your thoughts as you approach this milestone, and particularly with having Tommy there in attendance.
JASON KELLER: Pressure, that's the only thing I've been thinking about.
No, it's definitely an honor to be part of the Busch Series as long as I've been. And to have Tommy there, when I first came into the Busch Series, I raced against Tommy a lot. Definitely respected what he did for the series, and now that it's grown so much, it's really because of people like him and some of the guys that originally started. So very honored and very proud and hope that we have a good night on Friday night.
Q. You have obviously a lot of history in the Busch Series. Can you compare your experience with your expectations of the future of the Nationwide Series coming up next year?
JASON KELLER: Well, I definitely hope I'm going to be a part of the Nationwide Series in years to come.
I've made a home in the Busch Series now for 12 to 14 years, so it's been a great series for me. That's one of the things about getting to a milestone like I'm getting to this weekend. I don't want people to view that I'm at the end of the road. I want people to view that, you know, that I've got a lot more years left. I'm only 37 years old, so in the whole scheme of things, if you look at a lot of the Cup drivers that are in the prime of their career in their mid 30s, hopefully this is a new era for me, and I can be part of the Nationwide Series for many years to come.
Q. Given the Busch Series profile compared to the Cup Series and everything, have you ever really thought about the fact that fewer people are watching you and everything or has it just been racing that's been the important thing and you haven't really thought about whether it's a feeder level or contributing level to the Cup?
JASON KELLER: Well, I think I've always viewed the series as an individual series. I haven't viewed it as a stepping stone into Cup.
It's always been a place for me to get in competitive situations and competitive rides. It is different than the Cup Series. I mean, the Cup Series is the premiere series. I mean, there's no questions, media-wise, exposure-wise, and really across the board.
But the Busch Series is a great place to race. We race now at tracks now with 100,000-plus fans, and we are recognized in a lot of ways. But it's not as high-profile as the Cup Series, but I've never really focused on that. I've just focused on trying to do my best in the series and do my best with the car owners.
I was asked the same question, you know, what did I think about the two series, and can I end any career being a Nationwide Series driver now. And I can, because I just try to do my very best I possibly can and not focus on the exposure that we have or a little bit behind the Cup Series.
Q. What's been the biggest benefit of racing in Busch? I mean, of course, the schedule is less, but what's one tangible thing that you would look back on to say, you know, 'I'm glad I'm in this series?'
JASON KELLER: Well, for me, it's all a sacrifice as far as time away from your family. But the Busch Series has allowed me much more time with my family than some of the Cup drivers have with theirs.
So you know, would I go and be a Cup driver? Sure, if the right opportunity presented itself, I would. But the Busch Series has allowed me to coach my kids' basketball teams. I mean, I coached my daughter and my son's basketball teams last winter because I did really have a busy winter going on.
So, for me, I look back at those things and those are things that trophies can't replace and money can't replace, so I'm very proud of that fact that I've been able to spend a lot of time with my family. And as I have gotten older, I realize how much more valuable that is.
But I've been able to race for a living, and that's one of the things that the Busch Series has allowed me to d
Q. When you see Dario Frank Franchitti, Jacques Villeneuve lining up to get Cup rides, do you ever ask yourself, 'Why those guys and not me?'
JASON KELLER: No, not really. I just hope that they are treated like -- I say this carefully. I talked with Jeff Gordon how he felt about Jacques Villeneuve, coming in, and I just want them to have the same standard and same entry into Cup as everyone else has had to follow.
No, they are very recognizable names. You have Formula 1 and open-wheel, and I think it's kind of like an evolution. I mean, it used to be all of the Cup owners had to pick a Sprint car driver. When Jeff Gordon was picked and Tony Stewart, it was like the Cup owners had to have a Sprint or open-wheel midget driver.
Now it seems like since Juan Pablo has come in and had the success that he's had, now that kind of seems to be the fad, if you will, that these owners are saying, okay, now I've got to have an open-wheel Formula 1 or CART driver, I've got to have one of those guys. It's just the way the series goes.
I don't look at why not me. I just try to position myself and hopefully I do someone a good job and the owners a good job and that way they can see that it's all about the recognition that you can give them and the performance you can give them on the racetrack.
Q. Congratulations on making sure you're able to spend more time with your family, especially with your children and their games, because I know it goes by too quick. My question is: Do you think it's fair, really, that the NEXTEL Cup guys are allowed to race so much in the Busch Series?
JASON KELLER: We've always had Cup drivers racing the Busch Series. Dale Senior, Mark Martin; those guys have always raced in the Busch Series.
The reason that I think that the success has kind of gone over to those guys in the Busch Series over the last three years or so is now you've got the Cup teams coming in and saying, okay, we want to use the Busch Series as a way to practice for our Sunday races. We can take information that we've learned and translate it to our Cup car. You know, it used to be Mark Martin and those guys, Dale Senior had his own Busch team so it wasn't a -- it wasn't such a huge gap. I mean, those are the best drivers in the world, but it wasn't such a huge performance difference.
I'm concerned about the numbers of Cup drivers in the Busch Series just because the Busch Series is just that. It is a feeder series. It is a series that people have different agendas, but they may be, you know, just using it as a stepping stone, or myself, using it as a home.
There are so many agendas in the Busch Series, I hope that we maintain enough spots for all those agendas and not just become a series with 25 or 30 Cup drivers on a Saturday, and then just a couple of spots just left for everybody else. That's what concerns me.
I mean, I think the series is great when you have 12 to 14 or so Cup drivers, because they are more recognizable. They are more known to the fans, and that brings notoriety to our series, so I'm all for that. But when you start getting up to the 24, 25, even higher, numbers of Cup drivers in the series, it kind of puts it over to one side and that concerns me a little bit.
Q. Your job is all about tough decisions. What prepares you most for that?
JASON KELLER: My wife keeping my grounded, I think is the thing to say.
No, my faith. I just try to know that there's only so many things that I can control, and a lot higher power than me has control over a lot of the decisions. It's just the faith and that you just try to do your very best and know that God is in control of the rest.
Q. As a veteran Busch driver, do you see anything that could be done to enhance the series, maybe change the face of it and maybe reestablish its identity?
JASON KELLER: Well, I think there should be some type of Chase in the Busch Series. I think there should be some type of Chase in the series. It adds so much excitement to the Cup Series.
Now, what the parameters of that need to be, I don't know. I don't think it should be only Cup drivers in that Chase, but like Brian France or not, he has added excite to the end of the Cup season because of the Chase. So sometimes the Chase I think would be nice to add some excitement. You've got a runaway points championship now and you have for the last two years. So the excitement needs to maintain itself throughout the season I think.
Q. Your thoughts of different cars in the Busch Series?
JASON KELLER: I look at that differently because I think the Busch Series has been stronger when it had its own identity. Now the cars are so similar with the exception of the Car of Tomorrow, and I know we are going into a different era with the Cup Series.
But when the cars were different, you didn't have such an influx of Cup teams in the Busch Series.
So I'm all about the safety of the cars, and I love what the Car of Tomorrow brings from the safety aspect. And I hope that we implement that in the Busch Series, but I don't want the cars to get back to being very close technology-wise. I think if we can have the pony cars, so to speak, or a different version of the Car of Tomorrow, to maybe where the same shocks and springs won't translate from Saturday to Sunday, I think the series would be a little bit stronger and the guys would say, okay, they don't drive the same; I'll race the Busch Series car or Nationwide Series cars because I enjoy racing and I love racing, not only to help my Cup Series. I think as long as we keep those two cars separate, the Busch Series will get back to its own identity and hopefully to grow.
Q. How tough is it for to you run a few of the races when you had so many years where you were running them all?
JASON KELLER: It's tough because I want to be a part of a series week-in and week-out. I mean, I equated to only playing golf once a month. It's hard to get in a rhythm. It's very tough for me to get in a rhythm over the summer months because I raced for a couple of different teams. I mean, there for two months, I had a team for every other week and a different spotter every other week, and some of the small things that go along with that -- it's just it's hard to get into a rhythm.
I've been with the same, my CJM team currently for the last month and we've had great success. And you're racing against guys that are -- that don't need an advantage. These drivers and these teams in the Busch Series don't need any type of advantage. And when you don't compete week-in and week-out, it's tough to compete with them.
And I think that's the biggest hurdle for me is just the competition side of it to try to get into a rhythm and hearing the same crew chief on the radio week-in and week-out and if I say it's tight or loose, and really just the communication aspect of it
Q. When you went from full-time to part-time, did you ever say, 'My God, what did I do wrong?' Because you had a great year and you had a great team, especially with Greg Pollocks.
JASON KELLER: Daily I ask myself what I did wrong. When I was driving a forklift with my dad's company, I was asking myself, what in the world went wrong here.
No, there again, you just have to have focus on how you do things, and I couldn't change and I can't change how I do things. I may not be the most flamboyant person, but I mean, when I got released from the race team I got released from, we were the second-highest regular Busch seem.
Having said all that, change was made and I was the change and that's just the way the sport is. So you'd better accept it and figure out how to adapt, or they are going to throw a green flag and a checkered flag with or without me. So hopefully I can get us in a position to do that with me instead of without me.
DENISE MALOOF: Jason, thank you for joining us today and giving the time. We appreciate it. Good luck on your impending record
JASON KELLER: Thanks for everybody's questions today, and wish me luck, thanks.
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